A Rabbi once presented a copy of his scholarly insights regarding the sacrificial service in the Temple to R. Baruch of Mezibush for an approbation. After receiving no reply, he asked R. Baruch the reason for his hesitation.

“I haven’t been able to look at your book,” R. Baruch answered. “Please understand. It has nothing to do with you or your scholarship. It’s my problem.

“Every morning when I recite the passage in the daily prayers: “‘Where is the location of the sacrifices?’, I contemplate the destruction of the Temple and I am overcome with sorrow and grief. There is no way I could bear to read an entire text on the subject.”

Parshas Terumah

This week’s Torah reading focuses on G‑d’s command: “Make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within.” This command is somewhat problematic. There are other religions that place fundamental emphasis on a sacred place. In that place, one prays and performs ritual acts that bring one close to G‑d.

Judaism has a different value system. Citing the verse: “Know G‑d in all your ways,” our Sages state: “This is a short verse upon which the entire Torah depends.” For the bulk of Judaism centers not on prayer or worship, but on carrying out our everyday life the way G‑d wants. This is why the Talmud and subsequent Rabbinic writings devote the bulk of their texts to monetary laws, family relationships, and tilling the land. For rather than placing the primary emphasis on the rites carried out in holy places, Judaism is a religion of life, inviting G‑d into the day-to-day details of our ordinary existence, showing how they can be conducted in harmony with His guidelines. Wherever a person is and whatever he is doing, he can be serving G‑d.

This is the inner meaning of the words, “G‑d is one” in the Shema: not only that there is only one G‑d, but that G‑d is one with every aspect of existence. Jewish law gives directives that enable us to bring that oneness into expression, living our lives in connection with Him.

Why then is a Sanctuary necessary? If “the entire earth is filled with His glory” and we can relate to Him in every situation, why must there be a special place designated as His sanctuary?

We can answer these questions by focusing on a verse from our liturgy that expresses our regret that we do not have the opportunity to “ascend, appear, and bow down before You.” Now, it’s true we may not go up to the Temple Mount, nor can we stand before G‑d’s revealed presence, but why can’t we bow down?

In truth, however, our prayers are speaking about an entirely different sense of bowing down. When a Jew came to the Temple, he did not decide to bow down in homage to G‑d. He bowed down because he had no other choice. His awareness of G‑d was so overpowering that it literally knocked him off his feet. He could no longer stand upright. Instead, he prostrated himself, losing all consciousness of his personal identity.

Afterwards, when he returned home. He was no longer the same person. The direct contact with G‑d that he experienced in Jerusalem inspired him to bring G‑dliness into his everyday life. But the influence did not last forever. That’s why the Torah commands us to make a pilgrimage journey to Jerusalem at least three times a year.

The goal of the Torah is not to stay in the Temple. For the purpose of creation is not that we become overwhelmed by G‑dliness. Instead, the purpose is service: to make the world G‑dly by involving ourselves in all elements of worldly experience and expressing G‑dliness in those realms. To make that easier, there was one place where G‑dliness was plainly evident and from there, a person received his inspiration to bring G‑dliness into his ordinary experience. The Torah commands us to build a Sanctuary, not as an ultimate goal, but as a means to developing an all-encompassing awareness of G‑d.

Looking to the Horizon

For this reason, even in the era of Mashiach, when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed,” the Temple will be rebuilt. Indeed, one of the signs to identify Mashiach will be that he will rebuild that structure.

In that era, the oneness of G‑d will be revealed throughout all existence; still the nature of the revelation in the Temple will be more powerful and more overwhelming. And from there, we will derive the energy and the awareness to appreciate G‑dliness in all elements of existence.

This is not only a story of the future. The prophet Ezekiel calls the study of the structure of the Temple “building G‑d’s House” and many major Jewish leaders have called for an increase in the study of this subject in our time even though there is no possibility of actually building the structure. For when a person studies about the Temple, he is doing more than learning about a structure that existed centuries ago. He is building the Temple in a spiritual sense and serving as a catalyst for it being revealed in the world. Moreover, this is not merely a hope for a faraway future, but the anticipation of a soon-to-be revealed reality.